International Scholar Spotlight



Dr. Michael Yip

An Interview with International Scholar Michael Yip


(Q): A summary of your research - understandable to those outside your field of expertise.

(A): My lab research is in surgical robotics and robot learning. We take both a physical prototyping approach to solving these problems, as well as a computational approach. For surgical robotics, we design new minimally invasive, endoscopic or snake-like robotic instruments and systems to perform diagnostic and therapeutic tasks deep within the body – far deeper than conventional tools would be able to access. These robotic tools enable enhanced dexterity far beyond current capabilities and offer a platform for autonomous surgical tasks: robot-enhanced biopsy, foreign bodies removal, ablation therapy, and tumor resection. These tasks, with robot control, could be done under real-time medical image-guidance at sub-millimeter precisions which go beyond human capabilities.

Computationally, we are interested in how a robot learns to control themselves in an effective way --- i.e. what is the architecture for learning robust and useful behaviors --- which involve topics in deep reinforcement learning and robot planning. Much of this has to do with reinforcement learning, which involves a robotic system learning to behave through interactions with the environment and collecting experience. Our interest stems in finding data-efficient reinforcement learning for safety-critical tasks: i.e. robots should learn quickly (so a library of tasks can be learned efficiently), safely (to avoid wear and tear and to avoid damaging themselves or the environment), and generally (so that learned features can be transferred to new tasks).

While my lab, the Advanced Robotics and Controls Lab, was established less than three years ago, our research has led to the development of millimeter diameter flexible robotic catheters and endoscopes that can navigate deep within the human body and through conventional scopes (such as colonoscopes, bronchoscopes, rhinolaryngoscopes) and provide significant dexterity beyond human controlled tools. We have furthermore developed fundamental algorithms for rapid robot learning and exploration for planning behaviors in complex environments, leading to multiple orders of magnitude increase in computational and power efficiency.  We even starting a new project with the San Diego Zoo to use robots to help them take care of their animals.

(Q): Why did you choose UC San Diego?

(A):  UC San Diego offered the strongest intersection of opportunities in machine learning, robotics, and medicine. Indeed, with the world-class UCSD Medical School, the Contextual Robotics Institute, and the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institutes, as well as the surrounding community of high-tech biomedical startups and military contractors, the opportunities for robotics and medical devices development puts it within the top three places in the U.S. to do this type of research. Finally, with support and interest in robotics in general across all levels of governance (i.e. Chancellor’s Office to student body), the decision was easy. There is also a hunger for engagement between local industry – who wish to build San Diego into a U.S. robotics hub that I only appreciated when I arrived, and I am excited about the opportunities to work with the many local companies, large and small, in making San Diego the premier robotics destination.

(Q): An anecdote in transitioning to life in San Diego.

(A):  Life in San Diego is a joy and transitioning here has been relatively painless. There is a diverse set of cultures in the area, unmatched outdoor life, close proximities to most amenities, and fantastic and diverse food options. The only challenge is to make sure that you have the time outside of work to enjoy all that San Diego has to offer!




Previous Scholar Spotlights

  • Dr. Sharchar Lovett

    Dr. Sharchar Lovett

    Dr. Shachar Lovett is an expert in computational complexity originally from Israel. As a faculty member at UC San Diego, he studies the foundations of computer science and how computational problems can be efficiently solved. "As the scientific, engineering, and life sciences communities continue to be transformed by new, ever larger data sets, the motivation for designing very efficient algorithms to manipulate, store, and transfer data is becoming ever more clear...specifically, I study how the interplay between structure and randomness plays a central role in algorithm design and analysis." Lovett was recently awarded the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship in 2015.
  • Dr. Miguel Gonca

    Dr. Miguel Gonca

    Dr. Miguel Gonca comes from Maputo, Mozambique. He was born in the city of Xai - Xai located in Gaza, a province of Mozambique. He is a medical doctor, doing residency in Maputo Central Hospital, in internal medicine - second year.

    He is in San Diego doing a rotation for 3 months through the exchange program between Maputo Central Hospital and UCSD. He is gaining skills and knowledge that will benefit his clinical mission in Mozambique. What he likes most so far in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo, where he saw the pandas.  What he likes the most at UCSD is the degree of organization and attendance system and provision of health care to patients as well as the relationship between health professionals and petients.

  • Jérémy Lemarié

    Jérémy Lemarié

    Jérémy Lemarié is a visiting graduate student from France in the Department of Sociology at Paris West University of Nanterre la Défense. At UC San Diego’s Department of Anthropology, he is carrying out fieldwork in Southern California for his Ph.D. thesis that deals with the political, economic and religious aspects of surfing.

    Having received two B.A. and M.A. degrees in Sociology and History, Jérémy grounds his research in long-term historical analysis. His studies compare indigenous and Western representations of surfing since Captain Cook’s discovery of Hawaii in 1778. With a focus on mores and sensibilities, he points out interactions between human and nature drawing on concepts of “reenchantment” and “oceanic feeling” to understand sustainable management of natural resources.

    This project started from an exchange program with CSU-Long Beach, in which Jérémy conducted research in Huntington Beach, “Surf City USA,” on urban planning, city branding and commoditization of surfing. He interviewed local surfers to understand the impact of urbanization and globalization on communities and subcultures with a focus on coastal development and environmentalism. He is now an affiliate researcher at the SDSU Center for Surf Research and works on surf tourism through the lens of cross-cultural diffusions between indigenous and non-native people.

  • Dr. Ruhma Syeda

    Dr. Ruhma Syeda

    Dr. Ruhma Syeda started postdoctoral research training at UCSD’s Division of Biological Sciences in October 2010. She is fascinated by the power of biological science to understand processes not only at cellular but at molecular and atomistic levels. She is currently researching a class of membrane proteins called “ion channels”. These are biological gate keepers of all the cells and regulate key electrical/physiological processes, such as ion transport, cell signaling, maintaining cell volume and membrane potential. Due to their critical physiological roles, ion channels are important pharmaceutical drug targets. The focus of Dr. Syeda’s work is to understand and characterize the functional properties of ion channels at a single molecule level. To achieve this, she creates a mimic of cell membrane by a novel technique called “Droplet interface bilayer”- a first at UCSD.

    Recently a family of mechano-sensitive channels (called Piezo proteins) were identified and characterized.  These large membrane proteins — conserved from animals, plants, and protozoa — embody the long-sought-after mechanically activated ion channels. Dr. Syeda helped identify single channel properties of the purified Piezo1 protein after reconstitution in lipid bilayers providing compelling evidence that Piezo are pore forming ion channels, a scientific breakthrough. Aside from her research in the lab, she feels privileged to be a patient advocate volunteer at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

  • Dr. Andreas Goetz

    Dr. Andreas Goetz

    Dr. Andreas Goetz joined UC San Diego as postdoctoral scholar in June 2009 and is currently a Project Scientist at UC's San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Prior to this he worked as postdoctoral researcher in the Theoretical Chemistry department of the VU University of Amsterdam. He received his PhD in Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Erlangen in Germany.

    The work of Dr. Goetz combines aspects of (bio)chemistry, physics, numerical mathematics and high performance computing. He develops and applies software (AMBER and ADF) for atomistic simulations of the properties of materials and enzymes based on classical and quantum mechanics. In a collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory he is working on finding ways to reduce the cost of enzymatic bioetahnol production.

    Dr. Goetz holds a UCSD TRO award to characterize reactions that play a critical role in influencing the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

    Dr. Goetz enjoys to train students and researchers and has organized workshops demonstrating the use of the software he develops at SDSC and at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

  • Mikolaj Czajkowski

    Mikolaj Czajkowski

    Mikolaj Czajkowski is a Visiting Scholar from Poland in the Department of Economics. His research is devoted to quantitative analysis of consumers’ preferences. Modeling consumers’ preferences is crucial to explaining consumers’ motives, including the analysis of their rationality and decision rules they use. It also has practical importance to forecast consumers’ choices in markets and designing optimal characteristics of new private and public goods.

    Mikolaj's research involves conducting stated preference data from so called "choice experiments," where respondents make choices from mutually exclusive sets of alternatives in a hypothetically constructed scenario. In each choice situation, the choice alternatives are described in terms of different levels of attributes associated with each alternative and, on the basis of experimental design, the alternatives are made to vary between choice situations. By observing the changes in respondents' stated choices with variation in the choice situations, the effects of the attributes on the choices can be derived.

    In essence, this method allows one to estimate parameters of utility functions of respondents (i.e. to formally model their preferences), to simulate their market behavior and welfare changes in case a new good is introduced, and to design an optimal mix of attributes that consumers demand. In particular, Mikolaj’s research focuses on statistical methods to model heterogeneity of consumers’ preferences – the fact that consumers have different tastes and hence they may perceive and value the attributes of a good in different ways, and to account for uncertainty associated with consumers’ preferences and choices.

  • Dr. Yuvraj Agarwal

    Dr. Yuvraj Agarwal

    Dr. Yuvraj Agarwal is a Research Scientist in the department of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego. He is the Director of the SYNERGY — Systems, Networking and Energy Efficiency — Lab at UC San Diego ( He is also the Executive Director of the new NSF Expeditions Center in Variability).

    Dr. Agarwal completed his Ph.D. in September 2009 from UC San Diego, doing research in the area of power and energy management. His earlier work looks at mobile platforms with multiple radios, exploring techniques that use the diversity provided by these heterogeneous radios in order to improve battery lifetime.

    His most recent work looks at innovative ways to save energy in mains-powered devices such as PCs and servers by enabling them to "talk-in-their-sleep." He is currently leading an effort in CSE to set up a fine grained energy monitoring and management infrastructure for the  department building as part of a larger campus-wide energy effort called the Energy Dashboard. His areas of interest are at the intersection of Systems and Networking and Embedded Systems, and he is particularly excited about research problems that benefit from using hardware insights to build more scalable and efficient systems.

  • Dr. Rina Schul

    Dr. Rina Schul

    Rina Schul is a visiting scholar from Israel. She first came to the U.S. as a Fulbright post-doctoral fellow to receive training in neuropsychological research. During the process, she fell in love with clinical applications. To pursue her passions she earned a second doctorate (this time in the U.S.) in Clinical Psychology with a subspecialty in Clinical Neuropsychology.

    Dr. Schul then returned to Israel where she worked in the Israeli Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, providing care to survivors of a variety of traumatic experiences (e.g., terror attacks, car accidents, medical traumas, among others). This invaluable experience led her way back to UCSD. Dr. Schul currently works at the UCSD Counseling and Psychological Services providing therapy, crisis intervention, outreach and consultation to the student population as well as to the staff and faculty who work with them.

    Dr. Schul also serves as a Health Sciences Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, teaching undergraduate and graduate students classes on psychological trauma and recovery as well as resiliency. She thus combines her passion for clinical work with her love for teaching and applies her expertise in the field of trauma.

    Last but not least, Dr. Schul works closely with international students, helping them acclimate and adjust to the university and American culture, more generally.

    Dr. Shachar Lovett is an expert in computational complexity originally from Israel. As a faculty member at UC San Diego, he studies the foundations of computer science and how computational problems can be efficiently solved. "As the scientific, engineering, and life sciences communities continue to be transformed by new, ever larger data sets, the motivation for designing very efficient algorithms to manipulate, store, and transfer data is becoming ever more clear...specifically, I study how the interplay between structure and randomness plays a central role in algorithm design and analysis." Lovett was recently awarded the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship in 2015.